Alt-country six-piece the Strumbellas spent two weeks recording its sophomore album We Still Move On Dance Floors—a time that involved many takes, making things up on the fly, artistic vision versus reason and working with a Grammy-winning producer. Prior to a show in Edmonton, lead vocalist and songwriter Simon Ward told Vue all about it
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make We Still Move On Dance Floors, from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Simon Ward: The actual time in the studio was about two weeks, and we often stayed up late into the night to finish parts because we were pressed for time. In terms of writing the songs, it's hard to say how long it took. I think I wrote “Sailing,” “End of an Era,” and “Ride On” in one morning, but the others happened gradually for about a year. “The Fire” and “Did I Die?” are actually older songs that came back into the wood works after someone in the band heard an old demo of them.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
SW: For the most part, melodies just pop into my head when I'm brushing my teeth or riding the streetcar and then I scramble to my iPhone to record it so I remember it. Often the lyrics of the song are based off of me improvising words when I'm trying to actually write the melodies of the songs. After the basics are done, then I go to the band for help 'cause I'm not a patient person. I get sick of a song after the demo stage.
VW: Where did the lyrics begin for you and what did you want to express with this album?
SW: I basically just tried to not talk about God, death or my dad as much as the first album—which didn't necessarily happen. I just like writing about random thoughts I have about life. I learned a lot from Shannon Hoon [the late singer of Blind Melon] in that lyrics can come from anywhere and basically be a mish-mash of random ideas.
VW: What were the recording sessions like for this album? Is this the kind of thing you recorded live or did you piece it together one track at a time? Why?
SW: We did it track by track. We just didn't have enough time to do live off the floor because it would have taken many, many takes. And we and our producer wanted a record that was pretty tight, so we needed the editing room. One day we'll do a live off the floor, but not yet. The studio experience was great. We lived there for a couple weeks. It always gets a little tedious but overall we had a blast. It didn't hurt that they had a hot tub.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album?
SW: You bet. The title of the album was taken from a lyric of a song we didn't record. We actually really liked two songs that didn't get on the record and we still hope to record them somehow. You guys got a few grand you can loan us?
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted We Still Move On Dance Floors to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
SW: We had no idea what we wanted. I have certain things that I'm very stubborn about such as certain parts or melodies, but after that we were open to lots of things we hadn't planned. We decided most of the songs based on a democracy but my favourite story is that I secretly sent the producer a demo of “Era” and together we convinced the band to record it even though it got nixed prior to going into the studio. Simon 1, Strumbellas 0!
VW: You worked with Ryan Hadlock to produce the album. What drew you to him and what did he bring to the process?
SW: I hate to say the obvious, but I really liked his work on the Lumineers' record. He has tons of experience and super great ideas, too, which I felt we needed for this record. I loved his quirkiness and perfectionism. That's what I will always remember him for.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to We Still Move On Dance Floors what would it look like?
SW: I'd say the musical map is just my obsessive compulsiveness for writing better songs than I have previously done. I actually start getting very down on myself if I go into a writing slump. The only thing on my mind when writing for this album was to make it better than the other songs I've written. There was a lot of me sitting by myself in my apartment writing the songs for this album. Lonely Nights and Cowboy Fights. V
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